Pubdate: Wed, 13 Mar 2002
Source: Press & Journal (UK)
Copyright: 2002: Northcliffe Newspapers Group Ltd.


DAVID Blunkett's plans to downgrade cannabis to the same category as 
tranquillisers such as Valium could save police at least UKP 38 million a 
year and vastly improve officers' relations with the public, an independent 
report said today.

The study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed huge variations across 
the country in the way offenders are dealt with for possession of cannabis.

Describing the chaotic way police currently deal with the drug, the authors 
said some officers "specialise" in arresting marijuana users, while others 
have "effectively decriminalised cannabis in their everyday working practices'.

The report - entitled Times They Are A-Changing - concluded: "The chances 
of being arrested depend on the force areas where an offence is discovered 
and on the experience and attitudes of individual officers."

Co-author Professor Mike Hough said the Lambeth experiment - in which 
Metropolitan Police officers have dealt with cannabis users by confiscating 
the drug and giving an informal warning - should be extended across Britain.

Today's report also dismissed the argument that arresting someone for 
cannabis offences often leads to officers discovering other serious crimes.

In the first relaxation of British drugs laws for 30 years Mr Blunkett 
wants to move the drug from Class B to Class C, meaning possession will no 
longer be an arrestable offence and ranking its harmfulness alongside 
tranquillisers and anabolic steroids.

He is considering an as-yet unpublished report from the Advisory Council on 
the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which he commissioned last year, on whether the 
drug should be downgraded before making a final announcement on the move.

Last weekend Liberal Democrats became the first main party to back 
legalisation of cannabis as members also voted to adopt the policy of 
downgrading ecstasy and scrapping jail sentences for possession of all 
drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

Ministers have insisted possession will remain a criminal offence in a bid 
to counter suggestions that the policy is "soft on drugs'.

Chief executive of drug charity DrugScope Roger Howard said he hoped the 
reclassification of cannabis would stop the inconsistencies in the police 
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